Confession:  I’m a conference junkie.

There’s a definite love-hate relationship I have going on with them. I love them because of the learning, the mingling, the meeting, and the connections. I hate them because they’re so terribly draining when they’re over.

I’m writing this for you because I remember how exciting the first conference is and how you need to soak up everything and prepare and pack and re-pack and make lists and…and…your mind is SO full! You’ll laugh to know I just barely get packed a couple hours before bed the night before, or worse, sometimes the morning of. You’re having an anxiety attack just thinking about it now, aren’t you?

1. Breathe.

You’re not the only one attending this conference who has never, ever been to a conference before. I promise you that. And no one will make fun of you for your first time. The great thing about conferences (any of them) is that they’re a gathering of like-minded people which means conversation is super-duper easy. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

2. The Prep Work

It sets my mind at ease to visit the websites of (at the very least) the keynote speakers and I glance at the other speakers and panelists. I don’t study them, I don’t stalk them (ok, maybe a few of them I do) but not many. It makes me feel better to at least have an inkling of an idea of who will be leading the weekend. If they’re stalker material, I make sure to plan my weekend around when they’re speaking.

Otherwise, be flexible. The sessions at conferences are for a purpose, but they’re not written on the stone tables carried down from Mt. Sinai. If there’s one you think is that important, by all means, get to it! But if a chance to sit down to lunch with the Keynote presents itself, please, I beg you, do not rush off to a panel. Sit down, have lunch, make connections and have fun!

So. Print off the conference schedule. Pull out your pretty highlighter, and I know you have one because you’re reading this post, and highlight everything that you think you need to be at.  And let it be a guide, but not a dictator.

3. The Packing

If you’re a fasionista you can just skippity-skip-skip right over this because you’re not going to listen anyway. Everyone else, there’s just one word you need to hear:  COMFORT.

You go to bed late, you wake up early, you go like the Energizer bunny has never gone. This is NOT the time to wear brand new shoes (can you spell blisters?) nor is it the time to wear a bunch of fancy clothes you’ve never donned more than an hour or two at any given time.  Trust me on this one, ok?

You want at least two pair of your most comfortable shoes. If you bring just one, you’ll never want to wear them again after the weekend. Two to three is perfect. Your feet will thank you.

Pack your comfy jeans and your favorite shirts. You won’t be sorry.

If you can’t stand it, bring just one new outfit. But also, bring a back-up in its place.

Sometimes, I’ll bring two shirts for every pair of pants because heading back to my room mid-day to freshen up makes me feel like I’ve had a nap and I’m energized just by changing tops and freshening up my make up and hair.

Most conferences provide attendees with a bag for toting around swag and whatnots, but I like to make sure I have a comfortable purse big enough to hold a notebook, pen, my phone, camera, breath mints (see Optionals section below,) and a bottle of water.

4. The Family

Sing with me: “All the single ladies…” pass right on by. You won’t need this info.  Married gals and Mamas, though, get comfy and take notes. Prepare your husband and kids for the fact that you will not be able to answer your phone the minute they call. It’s rude to have your phone on during sessions and (in my opinion) even more rude to text while in the midst of a session. Let them know you’ll check messages between sessions and call them back during breaks.

If you’re like me (a tightwad,) you can also whip up some make-ahead meals and freeze them in disposable pans so the budget isn’t stretched too tight with senseless take-out meals.

5. The Optionals

Business cards.  Can you live without them? Yep. No one will make fun of you for not having them, either. You can still connect with all the people you meet. The easiest way?  Either use your mobile device to keep notes, or (if you’re old, like me) carry a little notebook in your purse. Social Media makes it really easy to connect. Jot down a website or Twitter address and forget about it until you get home (more about that in the last post for this series, The After.)

And if you want them and have the money–great! Bonus!  But they’re not going to make or break your conference experience.

Energy Drinks. Another confession: I love Starbucks Energy Drinks. I don’t drink them too often, but I do pack them for conferences. I bring one for every day I’ll be there.

Breath Mints. Ok. Totally NOT optional. Bring some and use them. Thankyouverymuch.

Bottled Water. If you’re flying, pack an empty bottle in your suitcase to refill for the weekend. If you’re driving, bring a case. Now you might think I’m crazy, but with all the walking and excitement and talking, you don’t want to be dehydrated and sickly. Most conferences provide water, but usually in cups and they’re hard to tote around. I like to throw mine in my purse and have it with me when I want it.

Airborne and/or other Immune Defense Boosters plus Hand Sanitizer. This is your warning: I’m a germaphobe.  All those people bringing all their germs from their respective places. Ack!! I am prepared. I don’t like being sick and for many years I couldn’t figure out why I got sick after every.single.conference.  Yeah. Con-crud. Enough said.

6. The Resources

I found some things you might like.

This is from ListPlanIt: Conference ePlanner

Easy Freezer Meals. Here. Here. and Here.

That’s it for today. Tune in next time for Part 2–The During and Part 3–The After.

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Thanks to Feld Entertainment, my sponsor for Relevant10!